Resilience, 'Rocky' and John Fetterman: What we can learn on resilience | Opinion
As any real fan of the franchise knows, "Rock" is nominally about boxing, but it is fundamentally about resilience. Its core message is that you can bounce back from anything — whether it’s a cascade of punches, a bankruptcy, or a beloved wife dying of cancer — if you can work through the pain and acknowledge it without letting it break you. As Rocky himself puts it, life is not “about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.”
"Rocky" is about what it really takes to be successful, whether that’s as a boxer, a coach, or a father.
Or a senator. Which brings us to John Fetterman. While he won his race, his debate against then-candidate Mehmet Oz was tough to watch. His time in office has, so far, been defined by hospitalizations for lightheadedness and depression.
But being an effective senator or public servant doesn’t demand silver-tongued oration. It doesn’t demand interviews with late night hosts and cable news pundits. It doesn’t require relentless cheeriness.
Being an effective senator demands resilience. It demands addressing the most difficult issues head-on, and not hiding from painful truths. And that is where Fetterman is at his best.
One need only listen to senators themselves to understand that achieving anything in the Senate comes down to resilience. Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter's memoirs contain countless stories of fighting for their constituents even as they fought brain tumors, cancer, or constant hostility from the opposing party. They bounced back from moments that would shatter most people, like Kennedy’s failed run for president or the assassination of two of his brothers.
Similarly, Robert Caro’s exhaustive biographies of Lyndon Baines Johnson show that LBJ achieved so much chiefly because he was willing to outwork his opposition. He took no days off. Famously, he even worked while he was on the toilet (though that was probably a bit too much resilience.)
There was little glamor in this work. Just grit.
It’s not hard to see why the more resilient candidate in any race will ultimately make the better senator or legislator. Extensive research has shown that resilient people are, most importantly, better able to learn from mistakes. Anyone in a high-stress position like a senator is going to make quite a few mistakes, and the key question for a voter is whether those mistakes will lead to progress or ineffectiveness.
The importance of resilience goes beyond learning, though. Resilient people can better manage stress and are less likely to “crack under pressure,” which is critical when facing the monumental decisions a senator must make. They are also better able to devise different solutions to stubborn problems when the first option doesn’t work.
Finally, they are more willing to take on the most difficult challenges, knowing that failure will not break them and that they can manage any fallout. Which brings us to Fetterman’s decision to not only check himself into the hospital for depression, but to let the world know he was doing it. He knew people would attack him for it. He knew Republicans would try to paint him as weak. He knew people would question whether he was fit to serve.
Yet, just as with the debate, he showed up. Like Rocky, he knew he’d take a beating, but he made the hard choice. Making the hard choice — the choice that will get him metaphorically punched in the head — is Fetterman’s MO. This is the same man, after all, who could have had any job he wanted after getting his degree from Harvard, but instead returned to Braddock, Pennsylvania to try to turn around a city down on its luck.
Like Rocky, Fetterman will never deliver a soliloquy. Like Rocky, even his best speeches will not hide his battle scars. Like Rocky, Fetterman has been through a lot, and his road to recovering his voice will be a long one. Like Rocky, his story is tinged with sadness.
Yet all those trials will only make him a more effective senator. If nothing else, he can get hit and keep moving forward.
Neal Urwitz is a consultant in Washington, D.C. and a boxing fan.